I hate this week, but I love this week.
I hate this week because it often displays the worst that an in-state rivalry has to offer. The one-upping and mine is bigger than yours. The constant pettiness and jabs back of forth. Of which, for reference, I have gleefully participated! It can be funny to a degree, but it is endless.
But mostly, I love this week and this game.
This week is more than just a football game, it’s personal. Work-places are split in half, families divided and best friends morph into enemies. A little extra juice is on the line.
Like many Iowans, I come from a family that is intersected by the Cy-Hawk series. My dad is an Iowa State grad and my mom an Iowa grad. I even have a twin brother that graduated from the University of Iowa. In fact, I had my very first beer (and then a few more) in a dorm in Iowa City while visiting my twin brother during freshman year (sorry mom and dad). That weekend, I also got into my first bar while underage in downtown Iowa City and watched the Iowa-Arizona State game from the Iowa student section. I wore a neutral shirt and neglected to participate in the gator chomp thing for what it’s worth, which they did A LOT in a near shutout of the Sun Devils. Nevertheless, man did I have a few good weekends in Iowa City over the years.
I always enjoy my trips to Iowa City because it brings back memories of family. As years pass on and memory fades, it is nice to have the sights, sounds and smells that bring you back. Cy-Hawk week does that for me.
My mom grew up about a Tiger Woods two-iron from Kinnick Stadium. Her father was a professor in the University of Iowa’s Political Science department for over 40 years. Her mother was an English Professor at the U of I. Several times a year, my brothers and I would head east from Des Moines over to the belly of the beast. Grandpa Ross lived right off Melrose Avenue – close enough that if you listened intently on Saturday game days – you could hear the Iowa marching band in preparation and the vendor that bellowed, “Big ass turkey legs!” Chuck Long lived a few houses away when he was an Iowa coach and Dr. Tom Davis was just on the other side of the avenue.
My Grandpa was a very stately person. He could usually be found in his study room with the news or golf on the TV screen, a book in hand, a worn-out newspaper on the stand next to him and a cherry flavored Sherlock Holmes-style cigar pipe not far away. If he wore anything other than a sport-coat or a sweater, it was a surprise. He was once offered the position to be the President at Texas Tech, but turned it down because he wanted to raise my mom and her sister in Iowa.
But despite his professorial and academic nature, I grew to learn that he loved his Iowa Hawkeyes. He held Iowa season tickets on the 50-yard line dating back to the Forest Evashevski days in the ’50’s. While at family gatherings, others asked him about the latest political hot topic or election, but our conversations were usually about what type of team Iowa had that year. And if Dan McCarney was finally going to turn the Cyclones around, “He’s an Iowa City boy after all and went to school with your mother.”
If nothing else, we always had the shared interest of football and the Cy-Hawk “rivalry.” Growing up, I attended most of the Cy-Hawk games and sat in his tickets as a gift, as my brother and I’s birthday always fell around game-time. Most of the games were not overly competitive or fun for me as a Cyclone fan, but I was always in awe of Kinnick and how big-time it felt compared to then Cyclone Stadium. I also was in awe of how many wide-bodied people could fit in such small seats.
I remember those walks from Grandpa’s house to Kinnick as if it was yesterday. The sights, the sounds, the smells.
When I opted to attend school at Iowa State instead of Iowa, he never voiced an opinion. I wish I would have asked him what he thought then. I really wish I could ask him now.
Grandpa Ross passed away suddenly nearly 10 years ago at the age of 88. I don’t make it over to Iowa City much at all anymore, except for when Iowa State is in town.
I’m at the point in time like a lot of folks in their 30s where very few of our grandparents are still with us. Grandpa Ross was the last of my grandparents to pass away. None of my grandparents had the chance to meet my wife or meet my now one-year old son, Everett. I sometimes think how I will describe Grandpa Ross to Everett so that he is more than just a picture or a segment on the family tree. How he loved his Hawkeyes. How he served his country in World War II. How he taught a Government and Politics class all the way up to his passing. How he was the smartest man in the room, yet could describe the most complex matter in the simplest terms. How he rarely smiled, but was always so generous. How he was a genuine and good man and yet someone I wished I knew better.
But this weekend, like every Cy-Hawk weekend, I will be thinking about my family and my Grandpa. Everett will watch his first ever Cy-Hawk game in person in his mini Iowa State garb. I will be in my Cyclone polo in the press-box and Grandpa Ross will be watching in his black and gold sport-coat in the sky. This week is personal and that’s the way it should be.